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Democrats delay coronavirus stimulus bill in pursuit of partisan priorities

Coronavirus is a crisis and Democrats don’t want to let it go to waste.

Over the past 10 days, many governors, including Gov. Steve Sisolak, have ordered nonessential businesses to close. These moves are justifiable efforts to slow the growth of coronavirus. The federal government also recommends avoiding social gatherings and limiting the size of groups. As a result, the nation’s economy has ground to a halt.

There’s bipartisan agreement in Congress that the federal government needs to pass a massive stimulus bill. Senate Republicans proposed cash payouts to individuals and families and economic help for businesses affected by the shutdown. Senate Democrats wanted expanded unemployment insurance and money for state and local governments. Over the weekend, it looked as if senators would solve this disagreement by funding such priorities. The cost of the bill would have been a $1.8 trillion. For context, federal spending in 2019 was $4.4 trillion.

Democrat leaders, however, weren’t satisfied with a massive increase in government spending.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision,” Majority Whip James Clyburn said last week. The Hill reported he made this comment on a conference call with more than 200 House Democrats. This strategy is reminiscent of the advice given by former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Emanuel said in 2008 when the United States was in the midst of the financial crisis. “What I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

That’s exactly what congressional Democrats tried to do. On Sunday and Monday, Senate Democrats blocked the very coronavirus relief bill they helped negotiate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released her own plan, which was chock-full of Democrat priorities unrelated to the coronavirus crisis.

Her bill included same-day voter registration and a mandate that states provide early voting, which are long-time Democrat priorities. It also funded a study on climate change and included a requirement for corporate board diversity. There was a provision forgiving $10,000 in student loans. A bailout of the Postal Service. A requirement that airlines reduce carbon emissions. Goodies for unions involving collective bargaining and union leave time.

Pelosi also wanted to shower money on pork projects. There was $35 million for The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, $300 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and $100 million for NASA. She also wanted to give $600 million to the IRS.

This is shameful. On one hand, Democrats say they believe a coronavirus stimulus bill is necessary to save the U.S. economy and prevent untold hardships to families and businesses. On the other hand, they delayed that relief in an attempt to advance their unrelated domestic policy priorities. As I write this, it looks as if Pelosi and the Democrats have abandoned their stalling tactics and are close to an agreement with Republicans.

Good. Instead of trying to capitalize on a crisis, Democrats should focus on ending it.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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